The Story of Infidelity: The Publishing Roller Coaster
“Infidelity is a page turner, loved the magical childhood parts. And so honest. That’s the most important thing for a memoir. I’m sending it out tomorrow. I know this is going to sell.” Never had I heard my agent so excited.
I poured my hope, heart, and several years of my creative time in the book, but I knew from past experience that success in the arts depends on luck and timing as well as talent, passion, and hard work.
Infidelity gathers 38 rejections, which I drop in a file with rebuffs from short stories, and novels. “I’m not giving up on this book,” my agent reassures me. “Something good is going to happen.” I didn’t believe her. My hopes were squashed by the refusals.
A half a year later, she calls. “Guess what. I just sold infidelity to Macadam/Cage for the initial launch of their publishing company.” After talking with Pat Walsh and Dave Poindexter, their spirit-catching enthusiasm about their new adventure quickened my exhilaration especially when they decided to make Infidelity the lead book of their inaugural season. They pushed the pub date so that it could be released in nine months.
The time of a pregnancy.
Pat came to my house and fell in love with a picture of my mom, dad, and me when I was about three months old. The photo became the cover of the book. I took him dancing that night and I don’t know if he’s forgiven me yet for the pain in his legs!
A few weeks before pub date, Pat called to tell me Infidelity received a star review from Publisher’s Weekly. I didn’t know the importance of this award, but caught his contagious excitement.The star stimulated a forced auction for the paperback rights which sold to Gerald Howard at Broadway Books for the second highest sum that year after Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Almost immediately, Hodder and Stoughton bought the hardback and the paperback rights, publishing Infidelity in both the UK and Australia.
Lionsgate bought the movie rights. My agent’s belief and my years of work were no longer folly.
Along with a new author escort in each city, I went on a national road tour from NYC to Portland, Oregon with TV, radio, and press which provoked articles in O, Elle, Entertainment Weekly, Good Living, Weekend. Interviewers and their audiences (even the camera men) were compelled by the subject since adultery is so painful and causative in 65% of all divorces. Right before one TV appearance, Pat informed me Infidelity had been nominated for the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. “Guess what? I just heard that Infidelity was nominated for the Pulitzer,” I announced on the live on-air program. My writing dreams had come true.
Broadway Books planned a second tour and the launch date was set for September 11, 2001. I delivered my daughter for her freshman year at NYU at the end of August, ecstatic at the vision of the moon hanging between the twin towers from the roof of my hotel.
“A huge display of your book is set up in the Barnes and Nobles in the World Trade Center,” Broadway’s publicity director emailed me on Sept. 10. “Everything’s ready for our launch tomorrow.”
My daughter was scared. Giving blood and making sandwiches. But okay.
Several days later, I remembered my book launch. Hundreds of beautiful paperbacks of Infidelity were mixed with the rubble of the World’s Trade Center. The Broadway tour was limp. Book conferences were empty; authors were reluctant to fly for presentations, flights had been cancelled. One radio interviewer asked me, “When we’ve just been attacked by terrorists, why should we concerned about adultery?” My only answer: “Well, I guess when it’s happening to you, it feels like an attack on you and your family.” At a reading, only one person attended and it ended up a therapy session as she had just discovered her husband was having an affair.
However, in the UK and Australia the excitement about Infidelity continued. Each country featured a cover article in the magazine section of their largest newspaper. Good Weekend’s (Morning Herald Sept 2001) was 51/2 pages. Life’s the Observor Magazine was 6 full pages. According to the head of Broadway Books, it was like being featured in the New York Times Magazine section. I did an international radio show with the BBC.
Years passed. I forgot about the movie deal. My kids complained about the publicity, especially in our local newspapers and magazines. I reassured them that the movie rights were about to expire and so no one needed to worry about more publicity.
Infidelity was behind me.
But…. I was in Mexico finishing a scene of a riot in Corcoran prison yard for Inside the Crips , I hit an internet cafe and discovered an email from Pat. Lionsgate exercised their option and a movie was in the works. In fact, shooting was scheduled in a few weeks. “Would you like to go to the set?” Pat asked. “Weirdly, the movie producers forgot it’s a memoir and changed it quite a bit.” Pat hadn’t read the script but when he finished it, he’d send it to me. He wanted to give me the heads up. The next day, I received a long email from him. The producer set the movie in New Orleans, made my ex-husband white, changed all our names—I was now Kathryn—and I was the one who committed adultery with a Latino Jazz musician! And most weirdly of all, I did not want to be a mother. Obviously it was not my book. They flipped the entire plot 180 degrees. Pat enclosed the script as an attachment, but I couldn’t download it in Mexico. I’d have to wait till I returned to the U.S.
I was surprised at my own lack of anger. Instead, I chucked at the huge irony. Another paradox of my writing life. A movie about my life that was not my life. I wasn’t annoyed about the fact that the character that was sort-of-me committed adultery. The irony was too perfect, almost funny. Women commit adultery almost as much as men. Maybe the movie would open up the discussion.
Right before Mardi Gras, I was in New Orleans in the Garden District on the set. I appreciated being part of an collaborative art project and was impressed at the illusions in setting the scene and the immense concentration of the actors as they got in and our of their role remembering every nuance of their previous position to continue the scene without an obvious cut.
As much as they changed the plot, they left one scene completely intact from the book: I am a child sitting by the window, watching the street for my Daddy to return. The little girl who played me was excited both by getting to be in a movie, and now meeting the author of the book. “You’re me as a grown up,” she said. “Well, my character.”I laughed. For me, here was an actual scene from my childhood, but the adult movie-me grew up to be so different than the real-me. An incongruent reality amidst twisted inventions. I also got to rewrite parts of the script, therapy scenes in particular. Making a movie is a living process. Like a book, not finished until it’s out.
I was saddened when I heard MacAdam/Cage had been swallowed by the tremendous changes in publishing in the last decade. They did a fabulous job of launching writers, cherishing, and preserving writing, while developing and preserving a notable backlist. Pat and Dave were always encouraging and supportive, especially to new writers and unconventional styles.
Now, here I am once again at the start of an adventure. I’m delighted that Infidelity is getting a rebirth with Dzanc Books and eager for the loops, ups and down of a new voyage. The story of Infidelity, with its rejections, sale, publication, old fashioned media tour, auctions, victim of a terrorist attack, and the crazy flip flop of the movie is part of the world of publishing.
For to be a writer, to be any kind of artist, or maybe simply to be alive and invested in your own narrative is to be on a rollercoaster, your talent, work, and passion swooped by the twin tails of luck.
A version of this article appeared on the Dzanc Books Website. Thank you, Michelle Dotter, for everything!